A cancer diagnosis brings a host of emotions, questions and concerns. The financial aspect of cancer treatment is one patients are often unprepared for. But many times, there are resources available to help.
As a financial advocate at Banner MD Anderson Cancer Center, Kathy Nobles meets with patients who express a financial need and researches available assistance for their specific diagnosis and treatment plan. She assists with their applications, and if approved, with tracking their grants and billing eligible expenses, as well as acting as a liaison between the foundations granting funds, the billing department, and the patient.
“Helping patients find grant assistance can alleviate their financial burden at this difficult time,” Nobles said. “I am continually looking for new grants or assistance that could benefit our patients.”
Nobles shared some of the common financial challenges patients encounter and what programs could assist them.
Imaging is one area that is often surprising to patients, she said.
“They often don’t realize that they will generally have multiple scans prior to their start of care, as well as having imaging on a recurring basis to determine if treatment is successful, and then after treatment is completed to monitor for metastases or recurrence,” she said.
Patients with high-deductible plans or Medicare patients without Part D coverage may also encounter high out-of-pocket costs.
“These are, often times, patients who were healthy prior to their diagnosis, maybe only seeing their PCP once a year and only having to come up with a regular office visit copay,” Nobles said. “Coming here and seeing several specialists, having labs drawn, etc. and having a copay each time can add up quickly.”
While patients often anticipate the costs for chemotherapy or radiation, they aren’t always prepared to pay the amount charged prior to beginning treatment.
“For many patients, this can mean having to come up with their entire deductible and out-of-pocket amounts for the year,” Nobles said.
For patients with limited income and not a lot of savings, this can present a challenge.
Help is available
At Banner MD Anderson Cancer Center, there are three types of assistance available through the Patient Assistance Fund.
- Radiation (ROC) assistance: can help cover the patient’s co-insurance after insurance is billed for treatment
- Diagnostic Imaging (DI) assistance: can help cover the patient’s co-insurance after insurance is billed for treatment
- Wig assistance: wigs are generally not covered by insurance; this helps with the cost of a wig from the Boutique of Hope within the cancer center
Additional assistance may be available for patients from groups outside of the hospital. Nobles said that may include foundations that assist with costs for specific medications with a covered diagnosis or through the drug manufacturer when other avenues have been exhausted.
“This can be in the form of a copay card, which reduces a patient’s cost to a set amount each dose or fill, or can also mean free drug supplied directly by the manufacturer,” she said.
A financial advocate, like Nobles, or a pharmacy patient advocate can help patients find out about these programs. When patients come to Banner MD Anderson, they are given a welcome packet with contact information for these internal resources to help guide them through the different aspects of care.
“Dealing with a cancer diagnosis can be a very emotional and stressful time,” Nobles said. “Our goal is to alleviate as much of the stress as possible so they can focus on healing.”